AN ENLIGHTENED MIX
In the eighth century, an Omani gave the world the first Arabic dictionary, the Kitab al-’Ayn, and the study of the language has been a vital part of Oman’s cultural history ever since. Capitalising on an increasing demand for Arabic language skills around the world, the University of Nizwa, Oman’s first private, not-for-profit university, established the DAHAD Institute for TASOL (Teaching Arabic to Speakers of Other Languages) in 2015.
“Because Oman was isolated for centuries, the Arabic spoken here is closer to classical written Arabic,” says Professor Al-Rawahi, Chancellor of the University of Nizwa. “This gives students studying Arabic here an advantage, as the everyday language they use is much closer to that of the written texts.”
Arabic language studies is just one research area attracting global attention. Frankincense, an aromatic resin obtained from trees indigenous to Oman’s Dhofar region, is now the subject of research into its potential benefits for cancer treatment. It is one of a number of compounds, isolated from plants native to Oman, that are being studied under the umbrella of the university’s Chair of Oman’s Medicinal Plants and Marine Natural Products. “Our research into medicinal plants has attracted postdoctorate researchers from Australia and Europe,” says Professor Al-Rawahi. “It is contributing to our rapidly increasing international ties.”
Similarly, the university’s National Chair of Material Sciences, established in partnership with the University of Cambridge, will capitalise on Oman’s rich mineral wealth. Its leader, Professor Carsten Schwandt, comes from Cambridge’s Department of Material Science & Metallurgy. “We’ll be sending our own master’s and PhD students to Cambridge to further strengthen ties between the two universities,” says Professor Al-Rawahi.
Reflecting the university’s emphasis on applied research, students from the engineering and architecture departments collaborated on the design and construction of a sustainable eco-house as part of a national competition on renewable energy. Their design, which cleverly interpreted Oman’s architectural heritage, was awarded Best Project for Energy Production and Consumption and now generates power for the national grid.
With a student body of around 8,000 – most of them women – the university has grown rapidly since its establishment in 2004. Its strategic focus on international research collaboration is now bringing the world to Oman – while sharing Oman’s heritage and resources with the world.